August 16, 2011

The last 20%

The Pareto Principle has been discussed, written about, blogged about, and lectured about in meetings and MBA courses. The reason this might be the case is because it is often fairly accurate. The rule claims that "80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes".

There are countless interpretations of this rule, and here is another.

I venture to say that 80% of the value that you seek to gain from pursuing a remarkable vision is found in the last 20% of the work. The last 20% is the attainment of the why behind what you do. It chisels you, it makes you stronger, and it makes the victory that much sweeter.

How many times have you given up when you were 81% of the way into something? How many times have you been within a days row of the shores that your ships were sailing for, only to call it quits when it comes time to row? And yet, if you were to push forward the remaining 19%, you would realize the impact that you seek.

The reason that people fail to continue, is because the last 20% is the hardest, most expensive, most challenging, most demanding part of the journey. You're tired. You're nearly broke. People call you crazy. It hurts.

Steven Pressfield introduced us to the resistance in War of Art. The resistance dwells in the last 20%. Make no mistake, when you cross the 80% mark, you are taking enemy ground. And the enemy will react with violent opposition. You are the unwelcome one.

The last 20% may take everything that you have, with no guarantee of success. The last 20% is where you begin to ask yourself if all the pain and discomfort you are facing is worth it? This is the time when most ordinary people will compromise on the original vision. At some point, you will be tempted to simply quit because the results you have achieved to that point are good enough.

The truth is, the results found at the 80% mark are not good enough. Not for you. You are not an average, ordinary person. You can get it done, if the cost is worth it to you. Even though by all other measures your pursuit would be considered a success, in the back of your mind, you will always wonder what would have been had you kicked it in that last 20%.

Decide before you begin what you are willing to accept as victory, and then make it happen. Don't sell yourself short once the journey gets difficult. I favor what Seth Godin has to say about quitting. He illustrates the importance of deciding what the conditions must be in order for you to quit before you even start.

If you have not decided ahead of time how much pain or cost you are willing to endure, then you will be at greater risk of being influenced to give in simply because the pain you are experiencing in that moment appears to be greater than the value you hope to achieve.

While it may be extremely painful in the here and now, the pain is temporal, and the last little bit is what it takes to realize the full value of your most meaningful work.

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